PROVINCIAL Economic Development MEC Sihle Zikalala believes that the BRICS Business Council conference, which concluded in Durban yesterday, was a major boost for businesses in the province and the country.

“Issues that have been discussed are interesting because you can see the joint efforts of the countries that make up BRICS.

“The exposure of the delegates to KwaZulu-Natal means a lot. There are issues and proposals that we need to follow up on as there are businesses that now want to establish businesses in KwaZulu-Natal.”

Zikalala said the proposal of a youth summit being aligned to the broader BRICS summit was an important development for the continent. “The youth summit itself and the issues that were proposed for follow-ups are crucial. It is important that young people are considered for employment, but also are considered for business ownership.”

Zikalala said the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) was already making an impact with investment in several projects, including the Durban port terminal.

The three major focus areas identified by the BRICS Business Council were: Youth – Fostering Entrepreneurship; the Digital Economy – Skills Development for the 4th Industrial Revolution; and Agriculture and Food Security.

The meeting was attended by over 400 representatives from the business communities of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, as well as representatives from strategic partners such as the NDB.

During its deliberations, the BRICS Business Council recognised the achievements and progress the council had made over the past year and analysed the opportunities and challenges facing the emerging economies.

The five BRICS countries reinforced their ongoing commitment and agreed on the importance of ensuring greater economic, trade and investment ties among the BRICS countries.

The annual meeting was presided over by Dr Iqbal Survé, chairman of the BRICS Business Council and founder and chairman of the Sekunjalo Group.

Survé stressed the importance of the NDB, saying the loans the bank had made exceeded the pace of other multinational banking institutions.

“Our countries and institutions are fiscally strained. We need all the support that we can get.”

He said the Business Council wanted the bank to deepen the co-operation and support of private sector projects.

“What we find in South Africa is that state-owned enterprises are undergoing serious changes, and have serious constraints; and, while this transition happens, they might not be able to easily take on any kind of debt that banks provide.

“In most of our countries we have a fairly well-developed private sector, and the NDB needs to make it easier to deal with and lend to these institutions.”

Survé said one of the themes for the conference – the fourth industrial revolution – would have an enormous impact on business. He called on the NDB to support technology companies or businesses that are involved in technology.

“BRICS should have a unit that is focused on researching this and how to fund technology. I know we have the e-commerce platform that was championed by China.

“I think that the bank should look at how it is able to fast-track the BRICS countries to have technology transfer. We talk of the internet of things, and it refers to the ability to optimise the manufacturing process.

“There is a huge opportunity for the bank to carve itself out a niche. This is crucial because some capital markets, particularly in the US, are able to fund these kinds of tech projects at costs that BRICS countries cannot compete with.”

Waseem Carrim, chief executive of the National Youth Development Agency, said technology was reshaping the world, and we had the power to connect with each other across borders and across nations. “But how can we make sure that in this rapidly changing world no one is left behind?”

Carrim said businesses that start off small could grow into some of the most successful companies.